The Environment Chronicle Notable environmental events between 2017 and 2017 Deselect
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- 2011 293 Events
- 2012 231 Events
- 2013 331 Events
- 2014 366 Events
- 2015 373 Events
- 2016 341 Events
- 2017 303 Events
- 2018 25 Events
- 2019 4 Events
On 24 January 2017, US President Donald Trump signed two executive memorandums to revive the Dakota Access pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline.
On 26 January 2017 a majority vote was passed in the Irish Parliament on fossil fuel divestment legislation. Lawmakers split 90 to 53 in favour of ditching coal, oil and gas holdings from the €8 billion Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. The bill, brought by independent representative Thomas Pringle, is expected to pass into law in the next few months after consideration by the finance committee.
Greenpeace Brazil has captured the first underwater images of the Amazon Reef, a 9500 km2 system of corals, sponges and rhodoliths located where the Amazon River meets the Atlantic Ocean – an area that the Brazilian government has opened for oil exploration. A team of experts, including several oceanographers who announced the discovery of the reef last year, have joined the Greenpeace ship Esperanza on an expedition to document this new biome, which runs from French Guyana to the Brazilian state of Maranhão, an area larger than the cities of São Paulo or London.
BP and Total are planning to drill for oil near a recently discovered coral reef off the coast of Brazil, Greenpeace Energydesk revealed on 30 January 2017. Together the oil majors own five deepwater exploration licences in the Foz do Amazonas (Mouth of the Amazon River) basin and are expected to be granted permits to begin exploratory drilling early 2017 – once their environmental impact assessments are approved by the Brazilian government. The nearest of these blocks is just 8 km from the reef, which was was described by National Geographic as “one of the most surprising finds in modern sea research” when it was announced in 2016. The scientists who discovered it are worried that an oil spill could dramatically affect the coral reef.
Global Nature Fund nominates Lake Tanganyika in Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania and Zambia as the “Threatened Lake of the Year 2017". Sedimentation, pollution and overexploitation jeopardize the second largest lake in Africa. Containing almost 17 % of the world's available fresh water Lake Tanganyika is of global importance and source of life for millions of people. On the World Day of Wetlands, the GNF draws attention to the importance of lakes and wetlands all over the world. Together with the local Living Lakes partner organization Biraturaba, the GNF calls for sustainable measures to preserve Lake Tanganyika.
On 8 February 2017, the Belize Fisheries Department announced the discovery of a new shark species in Belize. The new shark species has not been officially named as yet but it closely resembles the Bonnethead shark (Sphyrna tiburo ) and was discovered in samples taken from a landing site in Belize through an ongoing shark data collection, monitoring and research program and collaboration between the Fisheries Department and Dr. Demian Chapman, a shark’s specialist of Florida International University (FIU).
The Arctic has a serious litter problem: in just ten years, the concentration of marine litter at a deep-sea station in the Arctic Ocean has risen 20-fold. This was recently reported in a study by researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI). Since 2002, AWI researchers have been documenting the amount of litter at two stations of the AWI’s “Hausgarten”, a deep-sea observatory network, which comprises 21 stations in the Fram Strait, between Greenland and Svalbard. The results of the long-term study have been published in the scientific journal Deep-Sea Research I. The scientists observed the ocean floor at a depth of 2,500 metres using the OFOS (Ocean Floor Observation System), a towed camera system. Since the start of their measurements, they have spotted 89 pieces of litter in a total of 7,058 photographs. To enable comparison with other studies, the researchers have extrapolated the litter density to a larger area. The result: an average of 3,485 pieces of litter per square kilometre in the monitoring period (2002 to 2014). Among the litter they photographed, the researchers observed plastic and glass most frequently. As a rule, glass does not drift; it sinks straight down to the ocean floor. This indicates local sources and concurs with increasing ship traffic in the region due to the receding ice. Still, it is extremely difficult to draw any firm conclusions on the origin of the plastic litter, since it often covers a considerable distance before reaching the seafloor.
The German government has laid the foundations for more comprehensive nature conservation in the North and Baltic Seas, and for the accelerated establishment of a network of terrestrial biotopes. On 8 February 2017, the Cabinet adopted a corresponding amendment to the Federal Nature Conservation Act (BNatSchG), as proposed by Federal Environment Ministry. This amendment establishes a basis for authorisation in the Federal Nature Conservation Act for conserving threatened species in marine areas in the German Exclusive Economic Zone by means of legal ordinances. A second focal area is the establishment of a nationwide network of terrestrial biotopes covering ten percent of each Federal State (Land). The draft act requires the Länder to set up this biotope network by 2027. A third focal area is the inclusion of caves and semi-natural tunnels in former mines in the list of protected biotopes, for example to preserve the habitats of bats, spiders, butterflies and other insects. Regarding species protection law, the draft act prescribes the adaptation of provisions on authorising road construction projects and planning construction areas and installations in the energy sector to rulings by the supreme courts.
On 8 February 2017, campaigners and activists met in Brussels and other European cities to launch a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) to ban glyphosate, reform the EU pesticide approval process, and set mandatory targets to reduce pesticide use in the EU. The goal is to collect at least one million signatures from Europeans and submit the petition before the Commission’s next move to renew, withdraw or extend the EU licence of glyphosate.
On 15 February 2017, the European Commission sent a final warning to Germany for failing to address repeated breaches of air pollution limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2). The European Commission urges Germany to take action to ensure good air quality and safeguard public health in 28 air quality zones, including Berlin, Munich, Hamburg and Cologne.
On 17 February 2017, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft-und Raumfahrt; DLR) Space Administration and Airbus Defence and Space GmbH signed a contract for the design and construction phases of the German-French climate satellite MERLIN (Methane Remote Sensing LIDAR Mission). From 2021, this small satellite mission will measure the methane concentration in Earth's atmosphere to an unprecedented level of accuracy and thus contribute to research into the causes of climate change. The contract was signed at the Airbus site in Ottobrunn and includes the German contribution to the mission – namely, the development and construction of the methane LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging), the measuring instrument on board the MERLIN satellite. The core part of the instrument is a laser, which can send out light pulses on two different wavelengths and thus measure the methane concentration at all latitudes with great precision regardless of sunlight. The LIDAR instrument is being developed and constructed in Germany on behalf of the DLR Space Administration, funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy .
On 20 February 2017, Singapore revealed plans to put in place a carbon tax on the emission of greenhouse gases from 2019. The government is considering a carbon tax between $10 and $20 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions. The tax will apply to power stations and other large emitters producing over 25,000 tonnes of CO₂ equivalent per year. The government estimates that some 30 to 40 companies fall in this category.
On 27 February 2017, activists from Greenpeace protested at a Statoil oil rig in a fjord in northern Norway. The activists peacefully protested against Statoil and the Norwegian government for opening up a new oil frontier in the Arctic. The rig Songa Enabler is planned to drill further north in the Norwegian Arctic than ever before. For the first time in 20 years the Norwegian government is opening up a new oil frontier in the Arctic, allowing state-owned Statoil and 12 other oil companies to start a exploration the Barents Sea.
A nine-year-old girl has filed a lawsuit against the Indian government for failing to take action on climate change, warning that young people will pay the price for the country’s inaction. In the petition filed with the National Green Tribunal, a special court for environment-related cases, Ridhima Pandey said the government had failed to implement its environment laws.
On 1 March 2017, the World Meteorological Organization announced new records for the highest temperatures recorded in the Antarctic Region as part of continuing efforts to expand a database of extreme weather and climate conditions throughout the world. The highest temperature for the “Antarctica Region” (defined by the WMO and United Nations as all land and ice south of 60°S) of 19.8 degrees Celsius was observed on 30 January 1982 at Signy Research Station, Borge Bay on Signy Island. The lowest temperature yet recorded by ground measurements for the Antarctic Region, and for the whole world, was −89.2°C at Vostok station on 21 July 1983.
Researchers at the San Diego Natural History Museum, along with experts from Mexico and Brazil, have described a new species of large cave-dwelling spider, the Sierra Cacachilas wandering spider (Califorctenus cacachilensis). Related to the notoriously venomous Brazilian wandering spider (Phoneutria fera), the Sierra Cacachilas wandering spider was first discovered on a collaborative research expedition in 2013 into a small mountain range outside of La Paz in Baja California Sur, Mexico. Four years later, after careful documentation and peer-review, the species and genus was deemed new to science and the discovery was published in Zootaxa on March 2, 2017.
On 4 March 2017, the 4,290-tonne cruise ship Caledonian Sky, owned by British company Noble Caledonia, crashed coral reef near Kri Island, off Raja Ampat, Indonesia. It was one of the most beautiful coral reef areas in the world. Caledonian Sky was completing a bird-watching tourism trip on Waigeo Island when it veered slightly off course. It ran aground during low tide, smashing through the coral reefs. About 1,600 meter squares of coral reef were damaged after the incident.
Just two years after its 'twin satellite' was launched on 7 March 2017 at 02:49, the European Earth observation satellite Sentinel-2B set off on its mission on board a Vega rocket from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana. The approximately 1.1-ton satellite will monitor Earth from an altitude of 786 kilometres in a sun-synchronous orbit. Its most important task is to document changes to land surface and vegetation between 84 degrees North and 56 degrees South latitude. The Sentinel satellites are part of the European Commission's Copernicus programme. Its purpose is to collect and evaluate remote sensing data of Earth. The data has been provided free of charge to authorities, companies, science and every interested citizen since the start of the programme in 2014. In all, four optical Sentinel-2 satellites will be part of the Copernicus satellite family, which will comprise a total of 20 satellites. Sentinel-2A has been in orbit since 23 June 2015, Sentinel-2C and Sentinel-2D should follow from 2022 onwards. Together with Sentinel-2A, Sentinel-2B doubles the recording frequency – every point on Earth will now be recorded every five days – and halves the failure probability, which are both central requirements for users of Copernicus data.
Poachers have broken into a French zoo, killing a white rhinoceros and sawing off its horn. Keepers found the dead animal in the African enclosure of the zoo at Thoiry, west of Paris, on 7 March 2017. It had been shot in the head and its large horn removed with a chainsaw. The poachers fled before they could remove the animal’s second horn, either because they were disturbed or because their equipment failed, police said. A rhinoceros horn has an estimated value of between €30,000 and €40,000. Authorities described the incident as the first of its kind in Europe.
On March 7, 2017, Arctic sea ice likely reached its maximum extent for the year, at 14.42 million square kilometers (5.57 million square miles), the lowest in the 38-year satellite record. This year’s maximum extent is 1.22 million square kilometers (471,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average maximum of 15.64 million square kilometers (6.04 million square miles) and 97,000 square kilometers (37,000 square miles) below the previous lowest maximum that occurred on February 25, 2015. This year’s maximum is 100,000 square kilometers (39,000 square miles) below the 2016 maximum, which is now third lowest.
Dr Norman Duke, leader of James Cook University’s Mangrove Research hub, headed an investigation into the massive mangrove dieback. The findings were published in the Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research on 14 March 2017. The scientists used aerial observations and satellite mapping data of the area dating back to 1972, combined with weather and climate records. Dr Duke said they found three factors came together to produce the unprecedented dieback of 7400 hectares of mangroves, which stretched for 1000 kilometres along the Gulf coast. “From 2011 the coastline had experienced below-average rainfalls, and the 2015/16 drought was particularly severe. Secondly the temperatures in the area were at record levels and thirdly some mangroves were left high and dry as the sea level dropped about 20cm during a particularly strong El Nino.”
ECHA's Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC) agrees to maintain the current harmonised classification of glyphosate as a substance causing serious eye damage and being toxic to aquatic life with long-lasting effects. RAC concluded that the available scientific evidence did not meet the criteria to classify glyphosate as a carcinogen, as a mutagen or as toxic for reproduction.
On 21 March 2017, negotiators of the European Parliament and the Council agreed on a revised energy efficiency label and the relevant regulatory framework. The current A+++ to G labels for products will be replaced by a clear and easier to use A to G labels. This will make energy labels more understandable for consumers and help them make better informed purchasing choices. The measure will be accompanied by the introduction of a public database making it easier for citizens to compare the energy efficiency of household appliances.
On the occasion of the International Day of Forests 2017, the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL), the Bundesland Nordrhein-Westfalen, and the City of Bonn have officially welcomed European Forest Institute (EFI) in Bonn. The EFI premises will be situated on the UN-campus, with 19 other international organizations. The German hosts are especially happy that EFI Bonn is the seat of EFI's Resilience Programme, as sustainability is high on the country’s policy agenda. As an independent scientific organization with an international focus, the European Forest Institute is uniquely positioned to offer relevant knowledge for decision makers in Germany and elsewhere. EFI’s Resilience Programme in Bonn will concentrate on generating and communicating knowledge on how global change affects the socio-ecological resilience of Europe’s forest systems. Together with EFI’s member organisations and partners, it will conduct interdisciplinary research that connects forest science to other land-use disciplines and urban studies. New knowledge will create a basis for effective, integrated policies and forest and land-use management strategies facing global change. The EFI Bonn office receives core funding through the German Government (BMEL). Setting up the Bonn office is also supported through the government of Nordrhein-Westfalen.
The world's largest artificial Sun started shining in Jülich on 23 March 2017. The North Rhine-Westphalia Ministery for Climate Protection, Environment, Agriculture, Nature Conservation and Consumer Protection and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs (BMWI) joined the Energy and German Aerospace Center to inaugurate the new research facility Synlight. Among other things, the facility is intended to develop production processes for solar fuels, including hydrogen. Hydrogen is considered to be the fuel of the future because it burns without producing carbon dioxide. But the production of hydrogen – by splitting water into its constituents of hydrogen and oxygen – needs significant amounts of energy. In future, this will be obtained from the Sun. Sunlight in central Europe is unreliable and irregular, so an artificial Sun is the preferred choice for developing production processes for solar fuels. Periods of unfavourable weather and fluctuating sunlight hours might otherwise negatively impact tests. Scientists at the DLR Institute of Solar Research already managed to produce hydrogen using solar radiation several years ago, albeit on a laboratory scale. The size of these processes needs to be enlarged significantly to make them interesting for industrial applications. This is the objective of Synlight. The state of North-Rhine Westphalia supported the project with 2.4 million euro, approximately 70 percent of the total sum of 3.5 million euro. The difference of 1.1 million euro was provided by the BMWi.
Where is marine litter concentrated, and which species and ecosystems does it affect? Researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute have for the first time compiled all scientific data published on marine litter in a single, comprehensive database, now accessible from the online portal AWI Litterbase (www.litterbase.org). Here, both the distribution of litter and its interactions with organisms are presented in global maps. In addition, the regularly updated datasets are fed into graphic analyses, which show e.g. that seabirds and fish are particularly affected by litter. The latest interaction analysis shows that 34 per cent of the species monitored ingest litter, 31 per cent colonise it, and 30 per cent get entangled or otherwise trapped in it (for all figures: valid as of 23 March 2017). The total number of affected species is rising steadily and is currently at 1,220 – more than twice the number reported in the last review article. These numbers will change as the database is being updated regularly.
On 24 March 2017, President Trump announced, that his administration has approved the Keystone XL pipeline, reversing the Obama administration's decision to block the controversial oil project.
On 28 March 2017, Donald Trump signed an Executive Order to undo Obama-era climate change regulations.
On 30 March 2017, following months of negotiations, the European Commission secured a 10-year pledge to save the Mediterranean fish stocks and protect the region's ecological and economic wealth. The Malta MedFish4Ever Declaration sets out a detailed work programme for the next 10 years, based on ambitious but realistic targets. It is the result of a European Commission-led process that started in Catania, Sicily in February 2016. Important milestones include a first ministerial conference of Mediterranean fisheries ministers in April 2016, the GFCM annual session in June 2016, and the GFCM inter-sessional meeting in September 2016. The following parties were represented at the Malta MedFish4Ever Ministerial Conference: European Commission, 8 Member States (Spain, France, Italy, Malta, Slovenia, Croatia, Greece, Cyprus), 7 third countries (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Albania, Montenegro), FAO, the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean, the European Parliament, the EU Mediterranean Advisory Council.
Christophe de Margerie, the world’s first ice-breaking liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker, became the first ship to dock at the Yamal LNG terminal at Russia’s port of Sabetta on March 30 2017 after completing its ice trials. The ARC-7 class ice-breaking vessel, which has a capacity to carry 173,600 cubic meters of LNG, was designed specifically to serve the country’s Yamal LNG project and transport LNG in the Ob Bay and Kara Sea. Capable of sailing through ice up to 2.1 meter thick, Christophe de Margerie is able to sail along the Northern Sea Route westward from Sabetta all year round and eastward for six months of the year, from July to December.
On 5 April 2017 South Africa's constitutional court rejected an attempt by the government to keep a ban on the domestic trade in rhino horns. The ruling that the application be dismissed means that rhino horns can effectively be traded in the country.
On 18 April 2017 the five international judges of the Monsanto Tribunal presented their legal opinion. They have come to important conclusions, both on the conduct of Monsanto and on necessary developments in international law. The judges conclude that Monsanto has engaged in practices which have negatively impacted the right to a healthy environment, the right to food and the right to health. On top of that Monsanto's conduct is negatively affecting the right to freedom indispensable for scientific research. The judges also conclude that despite the development of many instruments to protect the environment, a gap remains between commitments and the reality of environmental protection. International law should be improved for better protection of the environment and include the crime of ecocide. The Tribunal concludes that if such a crime of Ecocide were recognized in international criminal law, the activities of Monsanto could possibly constitute a crime of ecocide. In the third part of the advisory opinion, the Tribunal focusses on the widening gap between international human rights law and corporate accountability. It calls for the need to assert the primacy of international human and environmental rights law. A set of legal rules is in place to protect investors rights in the frame of the World Trade Organization and in bilateral investment treaties and in clauses in free-trade agreements. These provisions tend to undermine the capacity of nations to maintain policies, laws and practices protecting human and environmental rights. UN bodies urgently need to take action; otherwise key questions will be resolved by private tribunals operating entirely outside the UN framework.
On 18 April 2017, the Mauna Loa Observatory recorded its first-ever carbon dioxide reading in excess of 410 parts per million (410.28 ppm). Carbon dioxide hasn’t reached that height in millions of years.
In 2015, 788 000 km2 of land area was protected in the European Union (EU) for the preservation of biodiversity, as proposed under the Habitats Directive. This represents almost a fifth (18%) of the EU total land area. Since 2010, the share of the protected areas has increased by 4 percentage points in the EU. In 2015, the protected land areas represented 20% or more of the total land area in twelve EU Member States, reaching over 35% in Slovenia (38%, or 8 000 km2) and Croatia (37%, or 21 000 km2). At the opposite end of the scale, the lowest shares were observed in Denmark (8% of protected areas, or 3 600 km2) and the United Kingdom (9%, or 21 000 km2).
On 21 April 2017, a ferry carrying 140 passengers crashed into a pier where pipes were located on the main island of Gran Canaria, prompting an oil spill. The pipes leaked 60,000 litres of oil into waters surrounding the towns of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Telde, according to the regional government.
The Urban Water Atlas for Europe shows how different water management choices, as well as other factors such as waste management, climate change and even our food preferences, affect the long-term sustainability of water use in our cities. The Urban Water Atlas for Europe illustrates the role of water in European cities and informs citizens as well as local authorities and experts about good practices and cutting-edge developments that can contribute to ensuring that water is used more efficiently and sustainably, helping to save this valuable resource. It also attempts to change traditional perceptions of water being a free and infinite resource, and to encourage conservation. Detailed factsheets in the Urban Water Atlas for Europe present the state of water management in more than 40 European cities and regions together with a number of overseas examples. The atlas was presented on 27 April 2017 during the meeting of Ministers in charge of water management from the 43 members of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), hosted by the Maltese Government in Valetta. The publication is one of the results of the BlueSCities project, funded by Horizon 2020, the EU research and innovation programme. The Atlas comes with two online tools that can help cities manage water more sustainably. The 'City Blueprint' is an interactive tool to support strategic decision-making by making it easy to access and understand relevant results and expert knowledge. The tool can present up to 25 different aspects of water management to give an overview of a city's strong and weak points, and provides tailor-made options for making urban water services more sustainable. The 'City Amberprint' is a tool for assessing a city's progress towards becoming smart and sustainable.
On 27 April 2017, the General Assembly adopted the United Nations Strategic Plan for Forests 2017-2030, a wide-reaching six-point framework aimed at halting deforestation and forest degradation.
On 27 April 2017 the European Commission adopted a new action plan to improve the protection of nature and biodiversity in the European Union (EU). The Plan consists of 15 actions to be carried out by 2019 to rapidly improve the implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives, which are the EU's flagship nature policies. The 15 actions focus on 4 priority areas: Improving guidance and knowledge and ensuring better coherence with broader socio-economic objectives; Building political ownership and strengthening compliance; Strengthening investment in Natura 2000 and improving use of EU funding; Better communication and outreach, engaging citizens, stakeholders and communities.
The European Commission is requesting Poland to refrain from large scale logging in the Białowieża Forest, one of the last remaining primeval forest complex in Europe and an environmentally protected site, as part of the Natura 2000 network. On 25 March 2016, the Polish authorities adopted a decision approving a modification to the forest management plan for the Białowieża Forest District. The decision allows for a three-fold increase in timber harvesting as well as for active forest management measures in areas which were so far excluded from any intervention. The Polish authorities justify the increased logging by the need to combat the infestation of the bark beetle and to ensure public safety, but the available evidence shows that these measures are not compatible with the conservation objectives of the site and exceed those necessary for ensuring the safe use of the forest. The logging is likely to adversely affect the conservation of the Natura 2000 site's habitats and species as well as cause irreparable biodiversity loss. In June 2016, the Commission sent a letter of formal notice to the Polish authorities urging them to make sure that the conservation and protection requirements of the EU's rules on Birds (Directive 2009/147/EC) and Habitats (Council Directive 92/43/EEC) are complied with on this site. As the logging is already being carried out in the forest, including the removal of 100-year and older trees and operations in the habitats which according to the Natura 2000 management plan should be strictly protected, the Commission is now sending a final warning. Due to the threat of a serious irreparable damage to the site the Commission is urging the Polish authorities to reply within one month instead of a customary two-month deadline. If Poland fails to address this breach of EU law within given time, the case may be referred to the Court of Justice of the EU.
Eight sites demonstrating the great diversity of our planet’s geology have received the UNESCO Global Geopark label on 5 May 2017, when UNESCO’s Executive Board endorsed the decisions made by the UNESCO Global Geoparks Council during its first session in Torquay, UK, September 2016. With this year’s eight additions, the world network now numbers 127 UNESCO Global Geoparks in 35 countries. They celebrate the 4.6-billion-year history of our planet and the geodiversity that has shaped every aspect of our lives and societies. The eight newly designated sites are: Arxan (China), Keketouhai (China), Cheongsong (Republic of Korea), Qeshm Island (Iran), Causses du Quercy (France), Comarca Minera, Las Loras (Spain), Mixteca Alta, Oaxaca (Mexico) and Hidalgo (Mexico)